Written by Mike Laws
Superb-pitching O’s blank Boston
Boston 0, Orioles 2
Man — so this was Chris Tillman not even quite firing on all cylinders? Now that’s just frightening. What’s it gonna look like when he doesn’t walk a hitter in each of his first four innings? When he’s not putting men on first and second for the meat of the order, like he did in the first tonight, or staring down a baserunner ninety feet away with just one out recorded, like in the fourth?
Because none of them seemed to faze the big right-hander in the slightest, in game two with the hated Sox. Tillman got Mike Carp to fly out to right to end the threat in the first. In the second the Oriole starter stranded a leadoff walk of Daniel Nava, abiding no further disturbances. Shane Victorino drew a one-out free pass, in the third, then watched as Tillman needed just three more deliveries, two of them popped out (by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, no less), to retire the side. An inning later, another leadoff free pass issued, Tillman got Nava to ground out to first, advancing the runner to second, before Jose Iglesias dropped a bunt single down the third-base line (where not even Manny Machado’s patented charge-and-barehand could come through in time to record the out). First and third with just the one away — and, uh-oh, Tillman now falls 3-1 to Will Middlebrooks. Trouble on the horizon, right?
Well, no. Like a certain recent derecho, it passed Baltimore right on by. Tillman’s next pitch sawed the Beantown third-bagger’s bat in two and flew only as far as short right-center, where Nick Markakis charged in to make the putout — and, his momentum carrying that excellent outfield arm ever closer in toward the diamond, hold the runner at third. Now facing David Ross with two away and a chance to prevent even so much as a single Red Sox run from crossing, Tillman didn’t squander the opportunity, blowing a 94 mph fastball right on by the Boston catcher for a swinging strikeout.
Oh, did I not mention that by that point Tillman was working with a 2-0 lead? That’s no small thing, considering how effective Red Sox starter Ryan (“Flappy Glove”) Dempster was, in this one; it’d be tough to argue he was more effective than his counterpart, Tillman, but he certainly was more pitch-efficient, only hitting the 100- mark at the end of his seventh inning of work, and laboring well into the eighth. Still, the righty made at least one big mistake early on, leaving a fastball elevated and tailing right into Chris Davis’s kill-zone, with the big man once again validating his nickname, crushing the 0-1 offering well out into the stands in left-center for his twenty-second homer of the season.
That led off the Oriole second. They’d go quickly the rest of that frame and for one out in the third, but then Nate McLouth walked (surprise, right?) and Machado slapped a single through the 3/4 hole into right, and though Markakis flied out to center, it was a deep enough drive for McLouth to scoot on in to third without a throw. Which became significant when Adam Jones swung at the first offering he saw, topping a low-and-away Dempster breaking ball for an effective bunt down the third-base line, and, busting it down to first, beat the relay from a hard-charging Middlebrooks by a quarter-stride. 2-0, O’s …
Which is all the offense could muster against Dempster all night, though the bats certainly had their chances — witness, for example, the eight inning, when they’d finally chase the Boston starter from the ballgame after he surrendered a leadoff double to Machado (again: shocker, right?) and eventually walked both Davis (intentionally) and Matt Wieters (not intentionally). Bases loaded, now, with the potential for a big blow-it-open J.J. Hardy performance — except Hardy had to face the ever-difficult Koji Uehara, who struck the Baltimore shortstop out on three pitches. And so on we moved to Jim Johnson …
But wait. Hold up. I didn’t tell you about how we got there. First things first: Tillman had settled right in for his fifth and sixth innings of work, both of them three-up-three-down affairs (and against the top and middle of the order, respectively), looking more and more bewildering by the minute. Only thing was, though he’d yielded just two hits through six, by the time of the third base-knock, a double to Iglesias to lead off the seventh, Tillman had thrown a hundred and six pitches. Guess all those walks came back to get him, in some small sense …
But no matter. Not with Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter in the ’pen. Both righties picked up right where they’d left off (wordplay!) the previous outing, last night’s thoroughly satisfying thirteen-inning Battle of the Relief Pitchers, with O’Day stranding the inherited man on second by way of a pop-up, strikeout and fly-out, and Hunter likewise continuing to get it done sans trouble of any kind, answering the side-armer’s implicit challenge with a three-faced-three-retired frame of his own in the eighth.
That set the stage for Johnson’s quest to convert his league-leading twenty-fourth save. And you kinda knew he’d get it done based on the closer’s very first delivery, a 94 mph fastball with two-seam/sinking movement that started in on Carp’s hands and abruptly darted back in over the inside corner — which was pretty much the same pitch Johnson came through with, a couple offerings later, for a called strike three. Then he started Nava with the same pitch, to the same effect. And tried to throw it again, this time directing it even further in, at Nava’s elbow — except Nava didn’t move, and the ball didn’t move quite as much either, and struck the Boston left fielder on the back of the arm. Hey, aren’t you supposed to at least try to get out of the way? In any case, Johnson’s not getting rattled quite that easily anymore, and required just one more pitch, another fastball, this one tailing in under Iglesias’s hands, to induce a game-ending 6-4-3 bouncer, with the relay nabbing the shortstop by a half-step. Call it karmic retribution from the baseball gods, for Nava’s Roger Dorn impression. Anyway, 2-0 is your final; the O’s blank Boston, take the first two of the four-game set, and improve to a game and a half out of first (behind the Sox) in the East. Here’s hoping for more of the same tomorrow …
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